King George V Gold Sovereign of the Bombay Mint of 1918 – The wartime emergency coin only issued for one year.
The gold rushes in Australia, South Africa and Canada forced the Royal Mint to take action to convert the large amounts of alluvial gold into a form that was safe to transport. The solution was to establish fully functioning branches of the Royal Mint in those territories – in effect British institutions on colonial soil – to refine, assay and mint the gold into sovereigns and half sovereigns.
India didn’t have a gold rush of its own, but a mint existed in Bombay since 1672 – making it one of the oldest mints in Asia. In 1918 a gold refinery was established there and Royal Mint established a branch on the grounds of the existing mint – but entirely separate from it. This was done with the express purpose of minting gold, which was flowing from South Africa, into sovereigns.
Prior to the First World War this gold had been sent by sea to London for minting into sovereigns but the sea battles surrounding the great conflict made it precarious to transport the gold all the way to England. Instead, the gold was sent from South Africa in the other direction, to India.
Although planning for the Mint in Bombay had begun earlier in the War, it wasn’t until 1918 that it became ready for operation. Only one date of sovereign was ever struck.
The coins featured the St George slaying the dragon design that had appeared on all gold sovereigns minted in London and throughout the empire since 1887. The difference was a small letter ‘I’ placed on the ground below St George’s horse, to distinguish those coins of 1918 were struck in India. The spirit of St George is what carried Britain through to VE-Day. This sovereign features the classical depiction of St George slaying the dragon and was minted in the last year of WWI
By the end of that year the war had ended, and within just a few more years, in 1923, a branch of the Royal Mint was established in Pretoria to carry out the minting ‘at source’.
This makes the 1918 ‘I’ Sovereign the shortest lived type of sovereign ever – the only one-year type – and a must-have for all gold collectors.